Our Visible Communities programme aims to:
- Diversify access routes to literary translation
- Strengthen links between the literary translation community and diaspora communities
- Contribute to the debate around decolonising literary translation
- Expand the range of literature published in translation
The National Centre for Writing is offering a range of professional development opportunities to UK-based Black and Brown literary translators, and translators working from heritage, diaspora and community languages.
The Translators Association and the Society of Authors have published a statement on racial equality in literary translation, with recommended reading and a list of initiatives aimed at inclusion and equitable access to literary translation and publishing.
Visible Communities is supported by Arts Council England.
Tilted Axis anthology
What does it mean to decolonise translation?
In recent years, there has been a growing conversation re-evaluating the way literature is written, published and read in the Anglophone world, pushing for a dismantling of the idea of a Western canon, and questioning the dominance of English-language writing in representing places and communities. Where do we go from here, and what are the implications for literary translation? What happens when we cast a critical eye over what is and isn’t considered literature, what is translated into which language and why, how translation is carried out, by whom and for whom? Most professional translators and editors in the anglosphere remain white — but is it enough to call for more diversity in this area, especially if the intended readers remain white, and given that the very concept of professionalisation is entangled with imperialism? Is the idea of decolonising translation, particularly into English, a contradiction?
These are some of the questions editors Kavita Bhanot and Jeremy Tiang will be asking in this anthology to be published by Tilted Axis Press in 2022, with the support of the National Centre for Writing’s Visible Communities programme.
Visible Communities residencies
We’re delighted to host one-week residencies in the cottage at Dragon Hall to UK-based Black and Brown translators working from any language into English, with support from the Francis W Reckitt Arts Trust. The focus of the residency is on time to translate, but each translator will have a mentoring session, and will record an interview for NCW’s Writing Life podcast. Earlier this year we hosted three literary translators; Anam Zafar, Derek Barretto, and Rabi Thapa. This autumn, we will host a further two literary translators in the cottage.
In November, we welcome Shagufta Sharmeen Tania. Born in Bangladesh, Shagufta Sharmeen Tania Initially trained as an architect. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in the Bengali-speaking areas of both Bangladesh and India. To date, she has authored two novels, a compilation of novellas and four short story collections. She also translated Susan Fletcher’s Whitbread award-winning novel Eve Green and Antonio Skarmeta’s Burning Patience, from English to Bengali. Her work has appeared in Wasafiri (‘This Gift of Silver’, Issue 84, 2015), Asia Literary Review (‘Notes from the Ward’, Issue 32, 2016), City Press (‘Letters to Her’, Issue 7, 2019) and Not Quite Right for Us (‘Bodies’, 2021 anthology by Speaking Volumes). Currently, she is working on a novel set during the initial years of war-torn Bangladesh, and a fictionalised biography of a celebrated musicologist of Tagore songs. Shagufta was the recipient of the 2018 Bangla Academy Syed Waliullah Award for her contribution to Bengali Literature and she is longlisted for the 2021 BBC Short Story Competition.
In December, we welcome Yvette Siegert, a Latinx poet, translator, and critic. She is the author of Atmospheric Ghost Lights, selected by Monica Youn for the 2021 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. She has received support and mentorship from CantoMundo, Macondo, Bread Loaf, Community of Writers, Ledbury Poetry Critics, the National Endowment for the Arts, Arts Council England, and the Visible Communities programme at the National Centre for Writing. Her translation of Chantal Maillard’s Killing Plato (New Directions) was shortlisted for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and her translations of Alejandra Pizarnik’s later work, Extracting the Stone of Madness: Poems 1962–1972 (New Directions), won the Best Translated Book Award. She is completing a doctorate in Spanish American literature at Merton College, Oxford.
In May 2021 we welcomed Anam Zafar, who was this year’s Visible Communities Emerging Translators mentee. She translates from Arabic and French into English, and this will be her first residency. She believes that problems arise when we speak about people rather than listening to what those people have to say for themselves. Through literary translation, she wants to be a conduit for voices that need to be heard, harnessing the power of storytelling to counter misunderstandings and sensationalism surrounding migration, Islam and the Middle East.
During the residency, Anam worked on her translation of Me, My Friend and the Donkey, a young adult novel by Palestinian writer Mahmoud Shukair (2016), and In the Tenderness of War, a non-fiction collection by Syrian writer Najat Abed Alsamad (2015).
‘A change of scene is not the easiest thing to come across during a pandemic. This makes me especially grateful for the time and space that this residency offers, letting me put everything else aside for a week, especially as my mentorship nears its end.’
In June 2021 we were joined by Derek Barretto. Encouraged by a succession of brilliant language teachers, Derek thrives on a literary reading diet of English, Lusophone and occasionally Francophone fiction and non-fiction. He is an aficionado of classical and contemporary literature and a voracious reader of ancient and modern poetry and practising poet. A would-be literary translator looking to specialize in translation of Lusophone fiction and poetry, he has a keen interest in conveying the richness and variety of Portuguese literature to Anglophone readers.
During his residency, Derek worked on a translation of ‘Madrugada Fria’ by Laura DaSilva, a contemporary Portuguese poet.
‘I applied for the residency as it is tailored specifically for literary translators from currently underrepresented minorities. It is important to me to learn from my soon to be mentor Meena Kandasamy. Her advice will be invaluable to me as a translator aspiring to broaden my exposure to the public. I hope to become more ‘technically savvy’ about how to present my translation project as a viable commercial product to publishers.’
Also in June, we welcomed to Norwich Rabi Thapa, a writer, editor and translator from Nepal, now working from London. He is the founder Editor of La.Lit (www.lalitmag.com), and the author of Thamel, Dark Star of Kathmandu (Speaking Tiger Books). For Visible Communities, Rabi plans to work on translating from Nepali to English Boni (1991) by the pioneering feminist writer Parijat (1937-1993). Boni is a series of missives from the author to a young girl on how she might live her life, and it is hoped an English-language version will help address the paucity of translated works from Nepal, particularly by minority women writers.
Rabi enjoyed carving out a week from early fatherhood to spend in the city of Norwich – which he remembers for an impossibly bright beach morning two decades ago – and in Dragon Hall, which for him already resonates with the artisanal timbers of his home city of Kathmandu.
Visible Communities virtual residencies
In 2021, we are delighted to be hosting four virtual translators in residence. Each residency will last for four months. As well as working on their own project and commissions, our translators in residence will organise events, record interviews for the NCW Writing Life podcast and advise on the development of the Visible Communities programme.
Vineet Lal is a literary translator from French to English, based in Scotland. In 2010 he was awarded one of the first-ever Mentorships in Literary Translation by the British Centre for Literary Translation, with Sarah Ardizzone, and in 2011 published his first full-length translation, Lacrimosa by Régis Jauffret. His first translated children’s book, Panthera Tigris by Sylvain Alzial and Hélène Rajcak, was published in October 2019 (a co-translation with Sarah Ardizzone) and his translation of The Woman Who Didn’t Grow Old by Grégoire Delacourt came out in February 2020. His translation of The Secret Life of Writers by Guillaume Musso is forthcoming in June 2021. He has interpreted for Francophone authors at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for many years, and is a Trustee of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature.
During his residency, from September to December 2021, Vineet is keen to investigate some of the ‘invisible barriers’ that stand between BAME translators and a career in literary translation, looking particularly at issues such as ‘unconscious bias’, the geo-political status of heritage languages, oral versus written competency in those languages, and why there are so few BAME translators currently translating literature from modern European languages.
‘I am absolutely thrilled to be given this opportunity to be one of the Translators in Residence as part of the NCW Visible Communities initiative. It has been a decade since I took my first steps in literary translation via the Emerging Translator Mentorships, and as a translator of South Asian origin I’m delighted that I can contribute to this important area of work – and, hopefully, inspire other BAME translators to follow the same path.’
Gitanjali Patel is a translator and social researcher. She graduated from Oxford University in Spanish and Portuguese and has been translating from these languages since 2010. She translates in a range of media, from film scripts and radio programmes to fiction, including stories by Luisa Geisler, Miriam Mambrini, Fernanda Torres and, most recently, Evando Nascimento. She has a Master’s degree in Social Anthropology from SOAS, University of London, and has used translation for several social research projects, including studies on the emergence of Rio de Janeiro’s favela community museums as tools of resistance, which won the Jon M. Tolman award at the BRASA XIV Congress. In 2016 she co-founded Shadow Heroes, an organisation which engages secondary school students in critical thought using the art of translation.
Gitanjali was in residence from May to August 2021. During this residency she focused on:
- Developing frameworks for ethical literary translation practice, raising questions of representation, power, historicity.
- Promoting a nuanced and multi-faceted understanding of diasporic communities predicated on heterogeneity: multiple ways of being, thinking about ourselves, our language(s), our knowledge.
- Deconstructing hierarchical categories, e.g. ‘first,’ ‘second’, ‘heritage’ and ‘community’ languages.
- Promoting minoritized, or ‘Global South’ cultures’ right to opacity and untranslatability.
Shash Trevett is a Tamil from Sri Lanka who came to the UK to escape the civil war. She is a poet and a translator of Tamil poetry into English. She is a winner of a Northern Writers’ Award and has been recorded by the British Library sound archive for the Between Two Worlds: Poetry & Translation Project. She is a Board Member of Modern Poetry in Translation. Her pamphlet From a Borrowed Land (which includes original translations) will be published in 2021 by Smith|Doorstop. She is currently editing (and translating), with Vidyan Ravinthiran and Seni Seneviratne, an anthology of Tamil, English and Sinhala poetry from Sri Lanka and its diaspora communities which will be published by Bloodaxe.
Shash was in residence from January to April 2021. Her residency was a two-part process. Firstly, she spent time translating the poetry of the Sri Lankan Muslim Tamil poet Rashmy into English. Secondly, she explored the different models of Tamil translations being produced in the diaspora. Working with Geetha Sukumaran (based in Canada), her aim was to translate poems by Nilanthan about the last days of the war in Sri Lanka, while documenting the differences in our approaches to translation.
‘I am absolutely thrilled and excited to be given the opportunity to be a Visible Communities Translator in Residence. The Tamil poets of Sri Lanka invented a new aesthetic of suffering when they documented the lives and hopes lost during the civil war. It seems important that their poetry of trauma be translated, read and shared. I am so thankful to the National Centre for Writing for enabling me to do just that.’
Sawad Hussain is an Arabic translator and litterateur who is passionate about bringing narratives from the African continent to wider audiences. Her translations have been recognised by English PEN, the Anglo-Omani Society, the Short Story Day Africa Prize, and the Palestine Book Awards, among others. She has lectured at IAIS at the University of Exeter, taught KS3 & KS4 Arabic in Johannesburg and Dubai, and run workshops introducing translation to students and adults under the auspices of Shadow Heroes, Africa Writes and Shubbak Festival. She holds an MA in Modern Arabic Literature from SOAS.
Sawad was in residence from May to August 2021. Her residency focused on challenging the assumptions that translators of colour are rare creatures at once regarded as exotic yet – perhaps – less experienced or professional by bringing their voices to the fore. She would also like to further explore Arabophone writing from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn, as such works are marginalized twice over, not only in the Arabic literary sphere, but also in the African one – considered neither African nor Arab enough. Ushering narratives from these writers (from Mauritania, Eritrea, and South Sudan for example) into English is necessary to further expand the range of literature in translation.
Our Emerging Translators Mentoring Scheme includes the Visible Communities Mentorship for UK-based Black and Brown literary translators and / or literary translators working from heritage languages. In 2021-22, the mentors are Meena Kandasamy and Sawad Hussain.
We offered six bursaries to UK-based BAME translators to attend the BCLT Summer School in July 2021 and will offer further bursaries in 2022.
We are working with partners on a number of projects.
Multilingual Creators is a partnership with the Stephen Spender Trust, New Writing North, Comma Press and the National Centre for Writing to extend the Trust’s Translators in Schools project to focus on community languages.
We are developing a partnership with Shadow Heroes, the Translators Association and the British Centre for Literary Translation to offer young people mentoring in literary translation as both a critical process and career option. Shadow Heroes explores translation as a social justice practice in schools workshops and training for literary translators.
The Poetry Translation Centre is rolling out its workshop programme to other cities, including Norwich, Manchester and Sheffield, encouraging local communities to use their heritage languages for literary translation.
The National Centre for Writing is working with Literature Must Fall to set up and run a programme of multi-generational activities in Birmingham around Punjabi language, literature and translation, including workshops, a festival and a summer school. We will also explore whether this model could be used with other language communities.
We are planning a number of public events throughout the programme and will end with a high-profile event to share the findings of the Visible Communities programme.
We would like to thank the Jan Michalski Foundation for their support for the Visible Communities programme, in particular the Tilted Axis Press anthology and our four virtual residencies.